Developing Effective Athlete Leaders: The Implementation of a Leadership Program That Focuses on Psychological Skill Developme
Leadership and Psychological Skills
Within the same time period, the science of sport and exercise psychology has grown ex-ponentially. Questions about human behavior fueled the development of applied sport psycholo-gy. Psychology is the study of the mind and human behavior. Exercise/sport psychology is en-compassed in exercise and sport science. Exercise and sport science is multidisciplinary. It in-cludes a variety of different sciences: physical, social, and etc. Ultimately, exercise and sports psychology is simply the study of people’s behavior in the context of sport. This study may in-clude examining specific biomechanical patterns to identifying cultural values that impact beha-vior choice. Sport and exercise psychology incorporates theories and approaches of psychology into the context of sport and exercise science (Gill, 2000).
Leadership training is essential to successful organizational function. Psychologically skills are irrevocably tied to effective leadership (Palmer, Walls, Burgess, & Stough, 2001). Ef-fective leadership is a sum of many psychological traits: personality, values, attitudes, percep-tions, and self-efficacy. Leadership is also a sum of many psychological and sociological theories and conditions: expectancy theory, perceived inequity, and double-loop learning. Effective leadership training consists of psychological skill training delivered through multiple approaches. Successful leadership programs should also include individualized feedback, lectures, case studies, role playing, simulations, group forums, and mentorship (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2006).
Youth and Sport
Close to 50 million youth between the ages of 6 and 18 participate in sports in the United States. Youth sports can provide wholesome, character-building activities that occupy the leisure time of children and youth, and enable them to make an effortless transition from childhood to adulthood (Berryman, 1996). Youth sports can aid in the development of social and psychologi-cal skills, physical dexterity, and leadership abilities. Sport can also foster social and moral de-velopment. Youth sports also provide a common sense approach to weight management (Gerberding & Marks, 2004).
Participation in organized sports has become a rite of American childhood. In the early 1900’s, agencies began to sponsor youth sports. In the beginning, they disguised their agenda to keep young boys out of trouble by marketing sports as activities that provide wholesome leisure time pursuits. Youth sports began when schools started offering intramural sports programs. So-cial agencies hastily followed. Prior to the 1950’s, most organized youth sports were facilitated by social agencies: YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts (LeUnes & Nation, 1989). Since the 1950’s, the design and management of youth sport opportunities have moved from social agencies to adult organized programs. Most sport historians advocate that this change occurred with the advent of Little League Baseball (Seefeldt & Ewing, 1996)
Perhaps the greatest insight can be found in words of Seefeldt and Ewing, “Although sports are not viewed as a panacea for society’s ills, sports participation that emphasizes skill building and socially acceptable responses to personal relationship has proven to be a popular aid in the education of youth” (1996). Simply stated, the benefits of sports underscore the impor-tance of youth participation.
Sport Leadership and Youth
Sport leadership is multi-tiered. There are both professional and amateur aspects of sport leadership. Professional aspects of sport leadership include coaching, administrating, and manag-ing. Amateur aspects can include professional responsibilities. However, for the purpose of this paper, amateur aspects of leadership will refer to the development of leadership skills in amateur athletes. It is apparent that sports have the ability to teach life skills to youth. Peer perceived ef-fective leadership is highly correlated to goal achievement (Zacharatos, Barling, & Kelloway, 2000). Effective leadership is a vital characteristic of successful workplace professionals (CDC; UC Public Health Leadership Institute, 2003). Therefore, leadership training in youth through sport can provide the essential education and practical applications to ensure a successful transi-tion from student to professional.
Community Based Youth Sports
The term youth sports have been applied to any of various types of athletic programs that provide organized practices and competition for youth. The experience of the program differs significantly based on the amount of resources available. Youth sports are generally classified by the organization that facilitates the implementation and management of the program. There are two major categories of youth sport: scholastic and community based. Community based pro-grams include agency sponsored, recreational, and club programs. Scholastic programs include both intramural and interscholastic competition.
Nearly 39 million children participated in community based sports programs in 2007. Approximately 2.5 million children participated in club sports. Approximately 1.3 million girls participate in club volleyball across the United States. In the state of Nebraska, over 17,000 girls participate in club volleyball. Community based settings are often terrific avenues to educate ath-letes about leadership training.
Club volleyball is primarily governed by USA volleyball. In 2007, it is estimated that nearly 1 million girls ages 14-18 participated in club volleyball. Club volleyball consists of a va-riety of different individual club structures. There are three primary club structures: professional, school, and grass-roots based programs. Professional based programs generally utilize or own a facility that is dedicated to volleyball, they employ full-time employees to oversee the program, they have multiple teams within each age division, and they provide a variety of services for ath-letes. School based programs are generally feeder programs into interscholastic programs. Grass-roots programs are parent or youth driven teams. Over 95% of girls who play club volleyball also compete in interscholastic competition (Gano-Overway, 2003).
The club season is nearly seven months in duration. Practices and team meeting provide terrific opportunities to implement a leadership training program. Over the course of a calendar year, multiple psychological skill techniques and leadership training modalities could be effec-tively implemented. Thus, club settings provide substantial opportunities for coaches to effec-tively implement leadership training programs.
Girls and Sport
Since the advent and implementation of youth sports, the number of youth participating has increased exponentially year after year. However, the opportunities to participate in youth sport programs are unequal amongst the gender continuum. The advancement of opportunities for girls in sports has increased dramatically since the adoption of Title IX in 1972. In 2007, half of all girls participate in sports during high school. However, there still remain a substantial gap between the number of boys and girls participating in sports (Stevenson, 2007). With this being said, the number of girls participating in sports continues to increase yearly.
Sports offer a variety of benefits for female athletes. Studies have suggested that partici-pation in sports can result in increased peak bone mineral density, improved self-esteem and self-worth, enhanced motor control, and the development of social, moral, and life skill development (Steiner, McQuivey, Peveleski, Pitts, & Kraema, 2000). Sport programs can also provide a safe environment from social and peer pressure. Leadership training programs that focus on psycho-logical skills development have been found to be an effective tool to enhance self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-worth, attentional control, and self-awareness (Harwood, Cumming, & Fletcher, Motivational profiles and psychological skills use within elite youth sport, 2004).
Psychological Skills Training
Psychological skills training (PST) is an effective strategy to enhance performance. It is an integrated, multidimensional approach to mental training and a valuable complement to physical training. PST has practical application in athletics at any age. Many researchers speculate that PST may be even more important for younger athletes (Behncke, 2006). PST has been effective at enhancing performance of athletes at all levels: amateur to elite.
Perhaps the most important function of a PST program is developing a sense of enjoy-ment for the activity. PST has been shown to be effective at developing individual sense of con-trol, accomplishment, and efficiently satisfying goals (Gill, 2000).
PST integrates multidimensional psychological skills into a program to enhance perfor-mance. This process can be time consuming. However, it is often systematic and progressive. Often individuals cycle through phases before consistently mastering the techniques. Psycholog-ical skills programs should be individualized to best meet the needs of the athletes. PST programs can be implemented by coaches, professionals, and even by individual athletes. PST should be utilized to complement physical training.
Most PST programs utilize an educational approach to sport and exercise psychology. An educational approach highlights individualization and emphasizes individual control. Typically, PST programs are composed of several psychological skills. These skills are presented to athletes. Athletes then must determine the appropriate way to implement and practice these skills. Ultimately, the facilitator of the program must be equipped to make appropriate modification and progressions to the program. The facilitator of the program is simply the teacher of the skills (Gill, 2000).
Leadership training has been tied irrevocably to psychological skills development. Effec-tive leaders have self-reported enhanced self-efficacy, improved attitudes, and an in-depth knowledge of goal setting, motivational techniques, and sport specific expertise (Dvir, Avolio, & Shamir, 2002). Therefore, leadership programs should encompass scientifically based components of psychological training.
For the purpose of this research paper, Vealey’s model of psychological skills training program development will be discussed at length. See table 1 and 2 for key constructs.
|Foundational Skills||Performance Skills||Facilitative Skills|
|Volition||Optimal physical arousal||Interpersonal skills|
(Vealey, Future directions in psychological skills training, 1988)
|Foundational Methods||Psychological Skills Methods|
|Physical Practice||Goal setting|
(Vealey, Future directions in psychological skills training, 1988)
Leadership training and PST is highly correlated to goal achievement. PST provides an effective technique to achieve optimal performance. In the state of Nebraska and Iowa, coaches are required to attain state certifications to coach high school volleyball. However, many coaches implement programs that are not multidimensional and research based. A research driven program that accounts for youth mental capacities and effective implementation protocols will help athletes achieve optimal performance and acquire essential life skills.
Thus, the purpose of this paper is to examine what psychological skills, leadership training methods, and implementation procedures are effective at soliciting optimal performance and goal achievement in youth volleyball players. More specifically, the purpose of this review is to examine the most effective strategies to enhance leadership, what psychological skills are most useful for 14-18 year old select volleyball athletes, what methods are effective for implementa-tion, and what medium should be used to present the methods.
Past research has examined the effectiveness of leadership training and PST programs to enhance performance and build life skills in youth athletes. An internet search utilizing journal databases (Pubmed and Google Scholar) were conducted to obtain relevant journal articles per-taining to the subject.
The review of literature consisted of the following sections: the problem, leadership train-ing, psychological skills, PST methods, and program implementation.
Over the past century, the study of leadership has grown exponentially. The only differ-ence between chaos and efficiency is leadership. It is essential to understand the nature of leader-ship. It must first be understood that leadership is a process not a position. Leadership training consists theoretical and research based techniques to enhance psychological skills associated with effective leadership. Leadership is both a science and an art. Leadership is a scholarly inquiry that is reflected by a substantial amount of research studies. Leadership is the art of motivating followers to act to achieve a certain goal. Effective leaders efficiently analyze and respond to situations to achieve goals. Effective leadership training ought to be built upon the foundation of scientifically based principles that assists in developing the individual art of leadership (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2006).
An effective leadership program should use multiple approaches to effectively educate leaders. A leadership program should also encompass some form of individualization. Successful leadership programs should include individualized feedback, lectures, case studies, role playing, simulations, group forums, and mentorship (Martinek, 2000). The program must be shaped to the mental capacity of the target audience. A targeted approach needs to consist of systematic train-ing that builds upon foundational knowledge and focuses on goal achievement.
Psychological Skills Psychological skills are the actual qualities that an athlete should pursue to obtain. Psy-chological skills are defined as the specific behaviors needed and consciously desired by the in-dividual in order to function in an effective and satisfying manner. Psychological skills can be classified in one of three groups: foundation, performance, and facilitative skills (Vealey, Future directions in psychological skills training, 1988).
Foundational skills are the basics. Self-referent thought is composed of self-esteem, self-efficacy, self-concept, self-awareness, and self-confidence. When developing a PST program, four foundational skills should be taught: volition, self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-confidence (Vealey, Current status and prominent issues in sport psychology interventions, 1994). Each of these skills are domains of self-referent thought. Each shall be discussed in fur-ther detail later.
(Vealey, Future directions in psychological skills training, 1988)
Many researchers have confirmed that self-confidence is a crucial construct that often de-termines performance. Self-confidence has been linked with leader self-sacrifice and leadership effectiveness (De Cremer & Van Knippenberg, 2004). In recent years, sport psychology research has advocated that self-confidence can be modified through interventions (Lox, Ginis, & Petruzzello, 2006). The relationship between performance and self-confidence merits serious ex-amination.
Self-confidence is simply belief in one’s self and in one’s powers and abilities (Lox, Ginis, & Petruzzello, 2006). In the realm of athletics, self-confidence may include someone per-ceiving themselves as capable of sprinting, but unable to perform complex athletic movements (attacking a set or serving a jump topspin serve). Both examples refer to specific areas of confi-dence; however both examples require specific movement patterns. As evidenced by the exam-ple, self-confidence can be described as a categorical confidence. A person might be self-confident in their skills as a volleyball player, but not as a softball player.
It is apparent through both observation and research that many elite athletes emanate self-confidence (Koivula, Hassména, & Fallby, 2002). On the same note, research suggests that the greatest difference between successful and non-successful elite athletes is self-confidence (Anshel, 1995).
Youth female athletes with higher self-reported self-confidence values are less likely to burnout. (Harris, 2008). Among minority youth female athletes, higher levels of self-reported self-confidence had an inverted relationship with multidimensional trait anxiety. . When an ath-lete had higher levels of self-reported self-confidence, they also reported lower levels of trait an-xiety (Voight & Ryska, 2000).
Research has also indicated that increased self-confidence is related to a decrease in ado-lescent delinquency, drug use, alcohol abuse, and sex. Youth sport programs that foster self-confidence have the potential to foster positive youth development (Fraser-Thomas, Cote, & Deakin, 2005)
Self-efficacy can be described as a component of self-confidence. Self-efficacy is one’s own belief that they can and will successfully perform a specific activity. Thus, self-efficacy is completely situational specific (Bandura, Social foundations of thought and action, 1986). An athlete may perceive that her ability to successfully attack volleyball is high while her ability to dig a hard-driven attack is low. Both activities are similar, however individual perception on multiple levels governs self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is one of the most important factors of leadership development. A link be-tween leadership and group-cohesiveness was found when leaders had higher levels of self-reported self-efficacy. Leadership self-efficacy is the key cognitive variable regulating leader functioning in a dynamic environment. The leadership process consists of situational considera-tions and ought to consider both leader cognitions and behaviors. Self-efficacy empowers leaders to effectively make decisions and motivate followers with the purpose of goal achievement (McCormick, 2001).
Self-efficacy is impacted through four primary sources: vicarious experience, mastery experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological/affective states. These sources may work con-currently or individually. See table 4 for definitions of each source.
Definitions of Self-efficacy Sources
|Mastery Experience||Degree of success experienced through past performance of the same activity|
|Vicarious Experience||Degree of success to which an individual ob-serves and perceives another’s performance of the specific activity|
|Verbal Persuasion||Verbal or nonverbal tactics used to enhance a person’s self-efficacy|
|Physiological/Affective States||Bodily or emotional response to participating in a specific activity|
(Bandura, Self-Efficacy, The Exercise of Control, 1997)
Even the constructs that impact self-efficacy are specific to the activity. Sport research has estab-lished that self-efficacy is a positive predictor of both skill attainment and performance execu-tion. Athletes with greater self-efficacy are more likely work harder, choose more challenging goals, encounter more positive emotional states, and experience less anxiety (Treasure, Monson, & Lox, 1996). Thus, the most important self-perception catalyst for performance enhancement is self-efficacy.
Athletes with higher self-efficacy were found to be more likely to take risks when learn-ing new skills, take leadership roles to encourage others to achieve team goals, and were more likely to adhere to team rules and expectations. Athletes with high perceived self-efficacy were also found to have lower injury prevalence. Generally, girls report higher levels of perceived risks and lower levels of risk taking. However, girls with increased self-efficacy reported lower perceived risks and high levels of risk taking than established norms (Kontos, 2004).
Volition is defined as the conscious act of making a decision. Some experts refer to voli-tion as decisional balance. In athletics volition implies that the individual is internally motivated and has the ability to make a decision to use psychological skills. Volition also implies that the athlete understand their emotional responses. With sufficient motivation and awareness, the ath-lete can develop self-confidence (Gill, 2000).
Often volition is the primary foundational skill that empowers athletes to make the deci-sion to utilize performance skills. Leadership volition implies that the athlete has the ability to choose the appropriate approach to motivate followers towards goal achievement. The ability to know and understand psychological responses is imperative. Some experts have suggested that understanding individual responses can be described as a scale. If the benefits of achieving a common goal is great enough then the athlete will chose to change a specific behavior to pursue the intended response. It is important to challenge the individual to examine their values to tip the scales of decisional balance towards behavior change. See Figure 1. When volition reaches optimal levels it is important to obtain their commitment to the behavior. (Greene, Riebe, Ruggiero, Caldwell, & Blissmer, 2003) Utilizing psychological skills methods is imperative: goal setting and attentional control. With the appropriate educational intervention, PST can result in remarkable results.
Self-Awareness is defined as having conscious awareness of one’s self. In terms of athlet-ics, this definition holds true. Self-awareness is the key to emotional stability, self-regulated mo-tor patterns, increased flow state, and anxiety control (Wang, Marchant, Morris, & Gibbs, 2004). Self-awareness implies that an individual has the ability to understand their own cues and capa-bilities. A leader should be able to understand their own psychological responses.
Self-awareness is the key to self-control. Self-regulation requires high levels of self-reflection. Understanding your self-thoughts will enhance attentional control. Self-awareness can also help foster muscle memory and enhanced hypo-egoic self-regulation of behavior (Leary, Adams, & Tate, 2006). The ability to understand when to adjust behavior is essential for perfor-mance enhancement and effective leadership.
Foundational Skills Discussed
Both self-efficacy and self-confidence differ from other domains of self-referent thought because they refer to specific situations. Self-confidence is slightly more global than self-efficacy. Self-confidence may be described as a sum of several domains of self-efficacy. A per-son might be a confident volleyball player (self-confidence), but she may not be efficacious in her ability to jump top spin serve short to zone three while attacking the tape with her ball contact or effectively set a two tempo back-set to the nine position at the net and isolate a blocker by maintaining neutral body posture. A leader might feel confident in their ability to sell an idea to a subordinate, but might feel uncomfortable addressing a group of coaches about a necessary issue. In the same regards, she might be efficacious at serving a jump top spin to deep zone 6, but not confident in her physical appearance. As explained in the example, self-efficacy is specific to a particular skill whereas self-confidence is a categorical sum of the perceptions related to the in-dividual’s self belief. The similarity of self-confidence and self-efficacy should not be over-looked and the differences should not be confused.
Similarly, self-efficacy can be manipulated by self-confidence. As a general construct, self-confidence may impact how a person perceives the four sources of self-efficacy. If an indi-vidual is particularly confident in a specific capacity (attacking) then a person may be more open-minded when attempting a new skill. A leader who has greater self-efficacy is also more likely to likely to be socially outgoing and harness greater follower motivation (Edwards & Steyn, 2008)
Secondly, self-confidence is generally thought of a sum of not only self-efficacy, but also self-esteem (Koivula, Hassména, & Fallby, 2002). The ability to make a decision hinges on self-awareness. The decision to act is often related to an individual’s perception of personal worth and a combination of factors that have resulted in self-efficacy. On the other hand, self-efficacy is simply the belief that the individual can and will successfully participate in the behavior.
It is apparent that self-confidence is generally a more stable (personality) trait, whereas self-efficacy may change with each new experience (Woodman & Hardy, 2002). A self-confident person may think of themselves as a terrific athlete. Whereas the same person may only feel efficacious as a 400 yard sprinter, a basketball forward, or a football half back. Their overall experience with athletics has been positive. Thus, this person feels personal worth as an athlete. However, this does not mean this same person is or feels that they are the greatest athlete in every field of competition.
All four foundational skills are positively linked to performance, a decrease in anxiety, an increased effort to achieve a defined goal, and greater emotional control (Treasure, Monson, & Lox, 1996). All four foundational skills can influence future behavior. An increase in self-awareness can heighten an athlete’s ability to understand and interpret their own perceptions of their abilities. This generally results in a change of self-referent thought. An increase in self-efficacy or self-confidence generally results in increased volition. Increased volition can result in adoption and adherence to specific behaviors (Shinji, Shigeru, Ryusei, Mitsuru, & Shigehiro, 2007)The reciprocal relationship between self-referent thought may provide the greatest oppor-tunity for coaches and sport psychologist to positively enhance performance and teach leadership skills to youth athletes.
Readiness, getting psyched, energized, activated, or even aroused requires an acute con-trol of mental skills. The ability to generate a mind over body response requires self-confidence and mastery over mental skills. An athlete can learn to voluntarily control their mental state by practicing psychological skills methods as explained later. Performance skills include optimal physical, psychological arousal, and attentional control.
It is essential for leaders to control the way they react to situations. Leaders must act in the way that they expect their subordinate that act. The ability to manage stress, act confidently, make wise decisions is important for team performance. A leader must be able to effectively aid followers in the pursuit of goal achievement. It is essential for a leader to effectively build rela-tionships and teach followers how to control arousal and maintain attention.
Optimal Physical and Psychological Arousal
Optimal physical arousal is aimed at eliciting optimal physiological arousal. In order to understand the importance of optimal physical arousal, arousal must be defined. Arousal simply means to provoke. In regards to physical arousal, the physical response for optimal performance varies from person to person. The desired physical state for optimal performance needs to be as-sessed for each individual athlete. Numerous variables can affect an individual’s physical state: stress, anxiety, excitement, etc.
The key to achieving optimal physical arousal is self-awareness. An athlete must learn how to recognize situations and stressors that can potentially negative impact performance. Knowledge of these cues is essential for the development of coping strategies. Once an athlete identifies potentially detrimental cues, the athlete must now begin to understand how this stressor impacts behavior. For instance, as pressure begins to mount, does the athlete choke or thrive?
The best approach to enhancing performance skills is a complex leadership and PST pro-gram implemented through an educational approach. Teaching athletes to recognize cues and react and deal with the impact of stressors if the key to success. Research based on quantitative and qualitative outcome and process measurements indicate general improvement in psychologi-cal skills, psychological well-being and sporting performance when an intervention focusing on arousal control is implemented (Edwards & Steyn, 2008).
One essential characteristic of leadership is the ability to model behaviors. The most ef-fective leaders have incredible expertise in the specific field of interest. Most effective leaders have mastered skills necessary to be an effective subordinate within their field of leadership. The ability to control physiological responses to situational factors is essential to model effective de-cision making. A leader must be capable of controlling stress and effectively responding to situa-tions calmly and strategically to ensure optimal performance (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2006).
Optimal attention refers to a state in which an individual has taken all the precautions ne-cessary to entirely focus on a situation in order to react spontaneously to a situation with con-trolled intensity (Williams, 2001). Attentional control is essential to maximize performance. At-tentional control is imperative for both optimal physical and psychological arousal. The key for fostering attentional control is self-awareness. An athlete needs to determine what their ideal per-formance state is.
In order to achieve optimal performance athletes must create a consistent framework to foster the development of psychological skills. Becoming aware of one’s own capabilities and needs for achieving an optimal attention state is essential for achieving optimal performance. At-tentional control can be developed by fostering an environment that enhancing an athlete’s ability to utilize psychological skills methods. Research suggests that one of the primary characteristics that separate average and elite athletes is attentional control (Gould, Diffenbach, & Moffet, Psychological characteristics and their development in Olympic champions, 2002).
Facilitative skills are complementary skills that empower optimal performance. Facilitative skills include interpersonal skills and lifestyle management. Facilitative skills are not common constructs of traditional PST programs. However, facilitative skills have become more of a cornerstone of contemporary sports psychology as it adopts more of a holistic approach. Inter-personal skills and lifestyle management generally do not directly affect performance, but they can facilitate behaviors that empower foundational methods (Martin, 1999).
Effective leaders understand the importance of facilitative skills. The ability to relate and build relationships is essential to motivating followers. Leaders must be capable of managing their personal affairs and effectively demand followers to do the same. Facilitative skills will empower leaders to focus attention on compulsory activities and help the organization achieve optimal performance.
Methods fall into two primary categories: foundational methods and psychological skills methods. Foundational methods include physical practice and education. Foundation methods are essential to building a basic understanding of mental process. Productive practice of skills fosters opportunities for skill development. Ultimately, athletes must first learn to execute skills first. Most athletes will not simply visualize themselves passing and then execute the details perfectly. Effective leaders will not give instructions without a purpose or general understanding of the situational factors. An athlete must first know what the correct form is. For the purpose of this research paper, foundational skills will not be discussed in further detail.
Psychological Skills Methods
Psychological skill interventions consist of goal setting, thought control, relaxation, and visualization (Gill, 2000). Psychological skills methods are effective techniques to enhance psy-chological skills. PST programs can improve mental skills, enhance individual experience, foster growth and development of life skills, as well as enhance performance (Williams, 2001).
Goals are specific things that an individual work towards. Goals are not merely wishes or dreams. They are wishes and dreams that are acted upon. Goals are defined as an objective that an individual or team is trying to accomplish. Goals can also refer to a specific defined standard of excellence (Weinberg, 1994). Goals provide direction for athletes or organizations towards an anticipated or desired result.
Specific, difficult, and challenging goals improve performance more than “do-your-best” goals. When goal setting is the only intervention implemented, research indicates that it has moderate effects at best. Specific, defined, and combined short and long term goal interventions have the greatest effect on performance for elite youth athletes (Harwood, Cumming, & Fletcher, Motivational profiles and psychological skills use within elite youth sport, 2004).
Goal setting has many positive aspects for athletes that utilize it. Studies have consistent-ly found that goal setting can improve athletic performance. The total effect size of goal setting interventions has been a source of much research over the past decade. Goal setting interventions with youth athletes have been found to be as effective as interventions with adult athletes (Brobst & Ward, 2002).
Athletes or leaders who set more specific performance goals were found to experience less anxiety, choking, and ultimately performed more consistently toward their objective. It was also noted that females used goal setting more often and perceived it as more important than males (Munroe-Chandler, Hall, & Weinberg, 2004). The most effective goal setting interventions for youth athletes must include educating athletes about performance goals, the use of goal set-ting for psychological skills, and about setting practice and competition goals (Van-Yperen & Duda, 2007).
Weinberg suggests that goal setting interventions will be most successful if practitioners utilize some simple guidelines (1996). See Table 5 for the guidelines.
Goal Setting Guidelines
|Set specific goals||Specific goals setting is the most important key achieving goals.|
|Set realistic but challenging goals||Goals should foster growth, development, and/or improve-ment. Goals must balance difficulty of achievement with pur-suing success.|
|Set both short and long-term goals||Short term goals should provide small steps towards long-term goal achievement|
|Set goals for practice and compe-tition||Practicing physical and mental skills is the key to perfection. Setting both practice and competition goals will aid in per-formance enhancement.|
|Write down goals||Goals should be recorded and reviewed as often as possible.|
|Develop action plans||Setting a goal is important, but creating a plan to achieve the goal is imperative. No goal has ever been achieved by simply setting it and not acting upon it.|
|Set performance goals||Performance goals encompass the details that and individual takes to correctly execute a plan or skill. Performance goals will generally lead to successfully achieving outcome goals.|
|Monitor progress towards goal||Consistent evaluation is also imperative to goal achievement. Continually revisit goals and adjust them as necessary to en-hance improvement.|
|Set individual and team goals||Both team and individual goals are important for overall suc-cess. Some players will have to re-adjust their individual goals to meet the need of the team.|
|Create a support network||Social support always plays a vital role in goal attainment. Creating a network of friends, coaches, and family members for accountability is essential to continual improvement.|
A successful leader teaches followers to set goals. Effective leadership always has a spe-cific long-term vision. The only way to achieve the long-term vision is to set short term goals. Great leadership holds individuals accountable along the goal achievement continuum. The ulti-mate goal of any organization ought to be to achieve a long-term vision. This objective will we satisfied through effective goal setting (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2006).
Imagery is the process of using all senses to create a mental picture. Imagery can be used independently to enhance performance as well as with other skills. Imagery is one of the most effective skills to pair with other psychological skills to enhance performance. It can be paired with goal setting to effectively execute a goal action plan. It can also be used to build confidence or adjust mental focus. Imagery is an effective tool to execute better physical skills and strategies for success (Gould & Udry, Psychological skills for enhancing performance: arousal regulation strategies, 1994).
Research suggests that imagery performed by youth athletes can effectively enhance mo-tivational states, goal achievement, optimal arousal states, elicit more positive attitudes, and help athletes overcome mental and physical barriers to optimal performance (Harwood, Cumming, & Hall, Imagery use in elite youth sport participants: reinforcing the applied significance of achievement goal theory, 2003).
Effective intervention strategies for imagery programs include professionally advocated seminars, webinars, coach or parent driven programs, and/or imagery related workbooks. Educa-tional approaches have been shown to have the most impact on performance. The best approaches include weekly sessions that reinforce previously taught concepts. The goal to any imagery intervention should be to increase the volume, duration, and frequency that an athlete uses im-agery (Harwood, Cumming, & Shambrook, 2004).
Gould and colleagues suggest that educational interventions focusing on imagery will be most successful if practitioners utilize some simple guidelines (Gould, Diffenbach, & Moffet, Psychological characteristics and their development in Olympic champions, 2002). It is important to note that imagery does not automatically result in achieving a specific objective. Great imagery programs must take into account the needs of the individuals involved in the program. They also must overcome unrealistic expectations, lack of individual commitment to practice imagery skills, and a lack of coach support (Harwood, Cumming, & Hall, Imagery use in elite youth sport participants: reinforcing the applied significance of achievement goal theory, 2003). Utilize the following guidelines to implement the most effective program possible .See Table 6 for the guidelines.
|Utilize imagery regularly||Imagery must be developed through practicing it regularly.|
|Develop imagery control||Imagery interventions must focus on developing individual control over personal imagery. Control is the key to optimal performance.|
|Combine approaches||Imagery is more effective when combining multiple psycho-logical skills.|
|Utilize all senses||Imagery needs to represent a realistic picture and experience for the athlete. Recreate situations that will allow the athlete to experience the specific experience before actually expe-riencing the situation.|
|Utilize internal and external perspectives||Teach athletes to see situations both as an observer and as the performer. Athletes should focus on all details: the environ-ment, smell, sound, etc.|
|Utilize imagery in practice and competition||Practice is essential for athletes to master imagery control. Utilizing imagery in practice and games will equip athletes with the ability to achieve every goal.|
|Utilize triggers||Create key words to encourage players to utilize imagery.|
|Journal||Have athletes record their experiences with imagery. They should record some details about the experience, the frequen-cy of utilizing imagery, and what was the trigger.|
Physical Relaxation and Attention Control
Inconsistent performances can generally be linked to a fluctuation of mental states. An athlete does not lose or gain stamina and strength during competition. An athlete can lose or gain control of cognitive factors during competition: concentration, self-talk, and the inability to process cues. Often arousal states determine an individual athlete’s ability to adjust to internal and external stimuli. The key to controlling arousal states is to learn to use physical relaxation techniques.
Physical relaxation is a technique that can empower individual athletes to learn to volun-tary control their physiological characteristics: heart rate, body temperature, breathing patterns, blood pressure, brain waves, and etc. A direct connection exists between the autonomic nervous system and arousal states. If an individual can learn to control autonomic nervous system func-tion, then the individual athlete would be better equipped to reach peak performance (Humara, 1999).
Research indicated that the key to learning to control autonomic function is physical re-laxation. Effective techniques can be taught in a relatively short amount of time. Some research-ers suggest that physical relaxation is one of the most effective techniques of behavior manage-ment due to the immediate impact physical relaxation has on the quality of performance (Newmark & Bogacki, 2005).
Changes in the mental state are generally accompanied by changes within bodily state. Therefore, if an athlete can learn to control their mental state then they will be better to control and master individual responses. Physical relaxation provides a useful avenue to enhance com-munication between physical and mental arousal. If an athlete can learn to become aware of op-timal states for performance, then the athlete can utilize strategies (physical relaxation) to consis-tently achieve this state. Ultimately, the goal needs to be for the athlete to identify a cue and simply voluntarily utilize physical relaxation or whatever strategy is necessary (Williams, 2001).
Relaxation techniques are widely recognized for their ability to control anxiety and stress among athletes of all ages. Relaxation techniques include breathing exercise, progressive relaxa-tion, meditation, imagery, autogenic training, etc. Research found that youth athletes who are able to control anxiety are more task-oriented. Acquiring the ability to self-regulate arousal en-hances an athlete’s ability to attain peak performance. Poor performance is generally a response to suboptimal arousal or over-activation patterns. Relaxation techniques can foster confidence and emotional control. Athletes that thrive on peak performance ratios lessen the impact of fatigue on performance.
To successfully implement relaxation techniques, a practitioner needs to implement mul-tiple strategies. Relaxation is not a one-size fits all. Athletes with a greater sense of self-awareness will find relaxation techniques easier to use. Relaxation programs should foster self-awareness training. Practicing relaxation skill is the key to effective implementation (Vealey, Current status and prominent issues in sport psychology interventions, 1994).
Attentional control refers to concentration. Concentration is simply the act of directing focus to a central item. Attentional control strategies can help anxious athlete overcome anxiety and focus attention on the task at hand. Attentional control training consists of self-talk, cogni-tive restructuring, centering, and imagery.
Many physical relaxation techniques apply to attentional control. Scientifically, many of the physiological responses to stress can be curved with an effective relaxation program. Two primary strategies for attention control self-talk and physical relaxation.
Self-talk is the key to cognitive control (Williams, 2001). Self-talk is essential to devel-oping self-confidence and volition. Self-talk requires acute self-awareness. Self-talk occurs every time an individual thinks. The thoughts and perceptions an athlete has is their self-talk. The key to controlling self-talk is found in understanding how these thoughts impact behavior. Elite ath-letes utilize self-talk as self-coaching. The use of positive self-statements can increase self-confidence which will enhance performance. Research suggests that teaching youth athletes about self-talk can enhance the individual athlete’s ability to achieve performance goals (Gould & Udry, Psychological skills for enhancing performance: arousal regulation strategies, 1994).
Self-talk can be utilized to help athletes correct bad habits, adjust concentration, modify arousal, build self-confidence, and increase self-efficacy. Negative self-talk has been correlated to losing. On the other hand, positive self-talk has been associated with enhance performance. Self-talk interventions should focus on increasing self-awareness, stopping negative self-talk, changing negative to positive thoughts, countering negative thoughts, reframing past perfor-mances, and restructuring thought patterns. These objectives can be achieved though utilizing self-talk tapes, creating affirmations, and implementing cue responses. Ultimately, self-talk is a product of an individual’s ability to focus on a specific topic (Johnson, Hyrcaiko, Johnson, & Halas, 2004). For additional attentional control strategies see table 7.
Strategies for Attentional Control
|Dress rehearsal||Create an opportunity for athletes to experience pressure as-sociated with competition by re-creating the competition envi-ronment.|
|Rehearsal of simulated competition||Give athletes opportunities to re-create specific situations so that they can execute skills in pressure situations.|
|Mental rehearsal||Utilize imagery to create the upcoming competition to en-hance performance skills.|
|Identify attentional cues||Teach athlete to identify triggers or cues that cause them to lose focus during competition.|
|Use failure to attain success||Athletes should visualize immediately after experiencing fail-ure to create a mental action plan to overcome failure.|
|Monitor attentional state||Utilize self-report evaluation, qualitative questions, and elec-trodermal feedback to measure attention control states.|
|Learn to focus and refocus||Teach athletes to utilize physical relaxation skills such as me-ditation to enhance their ability to concentrate on a single fo-cus item for extended periods of time. When they lose focus, challenge them to refocus using specific cues.|
|Develop performance rituals||Create specific protocols that an athlete can use for practice and competition.|
(Schmid & Peper, 1998)
It must be noted that effective leaders teach subordinates how to maximize performance. The use of stress management is essential for optimal performance. Stress management, self-talk, and other forms of attentional control are critical to effectively responding appropriately to a giv-en situational factor.
It is apparent that many psychological methods are linked by common goals. Imagery is a technique that can effectively help youth athletes reach goals, control anxiety, adjust autonomic nervous function, and foster attentional control. Each method should focus on eliciting improve-ments in psychological and leadership skills. The utilization of multiple psychological methods is the key to enhancing performance.
An effective leadership program should use multiple approaches to effectively educate leaders. Obviously, a leadership program should also encompass some form of individualization. Successful leadership programs should also include individualized feedback, lectures, case stu-dies, role playing, simulations, group forums, and mentorship.
Individualized feedback should focus on personality, intelligence, values, or interest in-ventories. Individualized feedback should also encompass modes of attentional control, self-awareness, self-efficacy, and decisional balance. Evaluating and understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses is one of the keys to successful leadership. A great leader understands his/her weaknesses and actively pursues opportunities to grow in those areas. Successful leaders also identify and supplement weaknesses by surrounding themselves with others who can help com-pliment their leadership style. Another great tool for individualized feedback is comparing an individual’s self-ratings with those given to them by their peers. Ultimately, a leader’s ability to successfully guide a program towards their vision is attenuated by their ability to effectively eva-luate their strengths and efficiently mask their weaknesses by supplementing or successfully de-veloping weaknesses into strengths (Gill, 2000).
Lectures are opportunities for leaders to learn scientifically proven techniques to com-mand authority. Leadership training should consist of theoretical and practical applications. Ap-plication may include developing supervisory skills such as facilitative skills and role modeling. Applications may also focus on improving interpersonal, oral, and written communication skills. Programs may also include goal setting, team building, time management, and long-term vision achievement (Showers & Joyce, 1996).
Case studies are an excellent opportunity to examine leadership dilemmas and effectively create contingency plans. Case studies consist of descriptions of various leadership situations and can be used as a catalyst for discussion. Many case studies are based on real life experience. Ul-timately, experience is the most crucial characteristic of leadership. However, case studies can effectively help bridge the gap between experience and leadership. For youth athletes, experience is often minimal. The use of case studies can effectively mask inexperience. By efficiently ex-amining potential leadership dilemmas, a leader can create contingency plans to deal with prob-lems. The specific case study needs to be sport specific. They also need to prioritize potential problems to efficiently expedite successful leadership responses to more common problems. It is apparent that experience does not always result in successful responses. However, dealing with a current issue will lend to future knowledge and experience that will aid in the ability to success-fully respond (Evans, Early, Halpin, & Collarbone, 2003).
Role-playing is extremely useful in the realm of interpersonal relationships. Some situa-tions need to be handled more delicately while other situation can be quick and bluntly over-come. Role playing is perhaps one of the most common modalities for leadership development. Role playing is the art of play acting specific leader-related scenarios. Role playing can be done in a group or individually. Role playing has great practical implications. It empowers leaders to practice social and relevant role-related skills to effectively prepare leaders to overcome objec-tions and less that optimal social interactions. In group settings, role playing can generate discus-sion and effectively help leaders develop better responses to specific situations (Sognuro, 2004).
Simulations are relatively structured activities designed to mimic common challenges of leadership. Simulations can be either direct or indirect leadership activities. Direct leadership ac-tivities can mimic role playing situations. Indirect simulations can consist of completely unrelated to on-court scenarios. They may be camp style activities or even outdoor recreation. Ultimately, the key ingredient for leadership simulations is the formation of interpersonal relationships and effective goal-setting (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2006).
Group forums are useful tools for leaders to share their collective experiences. They also serve as an opportunity to evaluate a leader’s ability to both constructively and persuasively lead and follow in group conversation. It is essential for leaders to be able to interact with other lead-ers. Constructive conversation and criticism is imperative for program development and quality control. Group forums provide opportunities for youth leaders to ask questions and model gain experience through interaction with others (Lox, Ginis, & Petruzzello, 2006).
Mentorship is last and potentially most important factor in the equation of developing leadership. A good mentor can and will solicit discussion, provide advice, and share experiences. A good mentor will foster an environment that embraces skill development, personal growth, and self-awareness. Ultimately, the mentor should be a wise and successful expert in the specific area of anticipated growth. As a leader forges relationships with experienced mentors, the leader wisely guards himself from failure by networking and learning from someone who has potentially overcome similar problems (Bloom, Duran-Bush, Schnike, & Salmela, 1998).
Research suggests that the best time to implement a leadership training program that fo-cuses on psychological skills is during off-season training, practices, or early training periods. PST is not a one-time solution. It takes multiple repetitions to acquire psychological skills, especially during pressure filled situations (Harwood, Cumming, & Fletcher, Motivational profiles and psychological skills use within elite youth sport, 2004). Select club volleyball is an eight month season. It is a supplemental league to the high school season. Thus, there really is not off-season for volleyball athletes. Thus, a PST should be implemented throughout the course of the season. More specifically, it should commence the first week of practices and continue throughout the duration of the season.
The nature of psychological skill infers that the individual acquires mental skills. Many of the skills can be self-taught in non-formal situations. However, a coach or sports psychologist can offer further instruction and direction in setting up and implementing a program. Ultimately, the training should result with the individual gaining control (Williams, 2001). The purpose and goal of any PST program must be to create individualized programs that focus on enhancing in-dividual control.
In order to determine the best way to implement a PST program, the intended population needs to be examined. An assessment of psychological needs, strengths, and weaknesses must be conducted. The assortment of measurements is at the discretion of the individual setting up the program. Appropriate measurement tools may include psychological skills inventories and anxiety measures. Interviews are also useful tools. Interviews should consist of questions that assess an individual’s dispensation towards the sport of choice, his/her psychological strengths and weaknesses, as well as individual identified problems or relationships. Recording interviews and writing down feedback is the key to effectively beginning the process of addressing psychologi-cal skills (Harwood, Cumming, & Fletcher, Motivational profiles and psychological skills use within elite youth sport, 2004).
The next step is to educate the athletes about myths, provide a strong rationale for im-plementation, and offer practical solutions through PST. It is imperative that the program imple-menter remains within their ethical guidelines. If this person is not a clinical psychologist, then an educational approach needs to be implemented. An educational approach is both effective and less time consuming than individual clinical sessions (Williams, 2001).
Coach run leadership training that focuses on psychological skills can be effective at managing both cost and information. An educational approach should be utilized when a PST program is not run by an accredited sports psychologist. A club team generally consists of 9-11 girls. Many clubs have multiple teams across various age groups. Program design should always be adapted to best reach each individual team member. Within a club program, the best assess-ments for program design are individual interviews and psychological skills inventories. Inter-views should be conducted with both players and coaches to determine the most effective ap-proach. It is generally a good idea to have a sports psychologist consult the overall direction and implementation of the program (Gill, 2000).
Within a club environment, parents should also be consulted about program management. Parents are enablers for their children. If parents chose not to support the program, the program will fail. It is essential to design a program that harnesses parental support (Steiner, McQuivey, Peveleski, Pitts, & Kraema, 2000)
Once baseline data is collected, program goals should be created. The assessment phase should provide the practitioner with the necessary data to select the appropriate approach. Al-though individual approaches (imagery, goal setting, or progressive relaxation) are effective when implemented separately, a multi-dimensional approach utilizing multiple strategies has been shown to be the most effective (Lox, Ginis, & Petruzzello, 2006).
Once the assessment has been completed, it is time to begin the process of determining which approaches will provide the most benefit. In order to effectively enhance performance, needs should be prioritized. It is impossible to implement every skill through every program modality at one time. In order to effectively teach leadership skills to an individual, considerable time and care needs to be given to each individual skill. Emphasizing one or two simple skills to begin with can effectively enhance team performance and leadership skills exponentially. Creat-ing a plan of action is key. As the individual acquires each new skill, another skill should be taught. Only when the individual masters each new skill should this next skill be implemented.
Developing a plan of action will shape the program. Utilizing Vealey’s model of imple-mentation will help the practitioner efficiently develop a plan for implementation. Foundational skills are essential for the development of performance skills. Methods should be selected based on the most effective approach to enhancing performance (Vealey, Future directions in psychological skills training, 1988).
Acquiring skills requires both understanding and additional education. Successful prac-tice and basic awareness of mental processes will foster skill development. Acquiring new skills often results in added knowledge and understanding. This added knowledge and understanding provides new pathways towards acquiring additional psychological skills and follower commit-ment. Certain foundational skills will enhance the potential of attaining greater control of both physical and mental capacities (Vealey, Hayashi, Garner-Holman, & Giacobbi, 1998).
According to Vealey (1988), foundational skills are exactly what the category implies: foundational. Volition and self-awareness are required for the individual to understand his/her psychological responses. If an individual rates his/her volition and self-awareness as high, then that individual is likely to be internally motivated and dedicated to PST. If an individual is both motivated and self-aware, then his/her self-confidence and self-efficacy is likely to increase. Each skill builds upon another. A leader has to become self-aware and committed to skill devel-opment in order to successfully achieve optimal performance, follower commitment, enhanced psychological control, and goal achievement.
Performance skills are directed towards achieving an optimal psychological state for competition. Optimal physical and mental arousal is essential for optimal performance and ap-propriate decisional balance. Inadequate or excessive arousal may lead to decreased performance (Gould & Udry, Psychological skills for enhancing performance: arousal regulation strategies, 1994). Some researchers suggest that arousal may hinge on individual perception (Hardy, 1996). Thus, enhancing foundational skills may provide an outlet to control arousal. Attentional control strategies are essential to enhance concentration. Concentration is a key characteristic of perfor-mance. Acquiring the ability to control mental and physical arousal as well as attention will pro-vide an individual with enhanced performance and purposeful leadership direction.
Facilitative skills are life skills. Athletics can serve as a medium to effectively teach and enhance individual life skills. Facilitative skills may not have a direct positive correlation to per-formance, however they are necessary to facilitate and manage behavior in the context of sport and exercise. Learning to communicate and build relationships is necessary in any team sport. Interpersonal relationships simply refer to an individual’s ability to interact with another person. Learning to effectively interact may lead to accepting critical feedback from coaches, keeping teammates accountable, and building team chemistry. Lifestyle management is essential to phys-ical and mental well-being. Lifestyle skills may include time management and healthy living. Lifestyle skills can result in better sleep patterns, performance nutrition, and overall commitment to excellence. Ultimately, these skills can supplement and enhance performance by increasing an individual athlete’s quality of life.
Programs that are designed for 14-18 year old volleyball players should begin by addressing foundational skills. A progressive and systematic approach should address performance and facilitative skills. Special emphasis should be placed upon increasing self-awareness and self-confidence. Workbooks complemented by lectures, role playing, simulations, and mentorship may provide the most effective opportunity to teach skills. Workbooks serve a dual purpose: to organize and manage the program and to provide written accounts for later evaluation. Work-books are also a time effective way of managing physical training and mental training during the grind of a 30-week season. See Table 8 for potential sequencing and program content.
The final phase of implementing a leadership program consists of evaluating the program effectiveness. Outcome evaluation does not only occur at the end of the program. Program effec-tiveness needs to assessed and evaluated throughout the program. Evaluation should be used to adapt the program as necessary. The evaluation process should consist of a variety of measures. Measures should be consistently conducted. Measures may consist of a variety of methods: indi-vidual or team discussions, written evaluation, re-assessment of psychological skills, and objec-tive performance data. Part of the evaluation must consist of surveying the athletes to determine how they perceive the strengths and weaknesses of the program. It is also important to appraise how much the athletes actually practice the skills (Evaluation of a comprehensive psychological skills training program for a collegiate tennis program, 1994)
Sequencing and Program Content
|2-4||Self-Assessment / Personal Inventory|
|5-8||Goal Setting / Plan of Action|
|9-12||Optimal Performance Education / Journaling|
|21-22||Goal Setting / Plan of Action|
|23-24||Optimal Performance Education|
(Elite Mind and Spirit, 2008)
Programs that are individualized and developed through assessing individual needs will be the most successful. Creating specific goals and evaluating progress towards those goals are essential. Individualized programs will improve leadership abilities, mental skills, and enhance the experience of the athlete. Perhaps the greatest benefit of a leadership training program is the process of developing life skills. PST is effective at enhancing performance in a variety of me-diums: sports and life (Gould, Diffenbach, & Moffet, Psychological characteristics and their development in Olympic champions, 2002).
Most of the past studies examining PST programs have focused on collegiate athletes. Many studies are dated and lack follow-up research. Limitations such as these make it difficult to generalize the results towards youth athletes. No studies to date were found to have examined the effectiveness of leadership training or PST programs in a youth club volleyball settings. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of PST programs on the performance of 14-18 year old volleyball players in a club environment.
It is apparent that a leadership program that focuses on psychological skills can be effec-tive at enhancing performance and attaining foundational psychological skills. Each psychologi-cal skill discussed is appropriate for implementation with 14-18 year old select volleyball athletes. Research suggests that a progressive and systematic program would be the most effective implementation strategy to improve goal achievement, enhance leadership skills, and improve mental toughness.
It became even clearer that the best methods to elicit skill development were complex in-terventions that combined multiple methods. The best medium to implementing a PST program is to create an educational approach that supplements instruction with role playing, mentorships, simulations, and lectures. The approach must encompass multiple sessions over an extended pe-riod of time. Foundational skills should be emphasized during initial stages of implementation. Systematic plans should be designed and initiated during program development stages. Progres-sive approaches should be implemented to ensure maximal effects of the leadership program.
The best medium to implement a psychological skills program is a face-to-face individual appointment. However, within the context of athletics, program management dictates time de-mands. Lectures, role playing, and mentorship is just as effective at fostering leadership and psy-chological skills. In a club program, workbooks should guide program development. Workshops should be conducted to ensure quality control and foster open channels of communication. Eval-uation is essential to creating and maintaining program quality. Ultimately, the key to effective PST programs rely upon diligent program design, implementation, and evaluation.
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